The contractor is gone, the painter has departed, and the electrician has shed light where before there was only darkness.  The house glints fresh green as the afternoon sun finally pierces the clouds on this unusually warm winter day: 65 degrees in full sun.  Asphodel are arising from their winter graves, ghostly white and waving in the warm breeze.  Three months after buying this little gem in the middle of Sonoma County’s wine country, I finally have a moment of peace.  It’s done.

For the moment, that is.  There is no finality in these matters.  Aside from the natural process of decay, which besets all things—especially houses—there is my own natural desire for elaboration, for new and higher fortifications with which to adorn the castle.

I moved here for the land, the sweet soil that is literally bursting with life, a natural exuberance that can only be characterized as Bacchanalian.  Vineyards radiate across the slopes and curves of the land, like a caress.  Yes, this is California’s wine country, but Sebastopol is famous for its apples, its soil lauded by Luther Burbank as the ideal location for an orchard.  I sink into loamy softness as I walk across the field in back of my house, wildflowers blooming prematurely among the tall grasses.  A tree branch waves in the wind like an arm outstretched, the sinuous limb of an exotic dancer: It’s some kind of weeping evergreen I’ve never seen before.  Other exotica lurk in every corner of the garden: huge century plants, their spiky leaves like swords of blue steel, giant native grasses like urchins undulating undersea.  The dear old apple tree stands way in the back, gnarled and bent to the wind, next to a mysterious fruit tree whose identity will be revealed come springtime.  These are my new companions, and we’re getting to know each other quite well.

Did I say I was done?  The garden is enough of a project to outlast a much longer lifetime than I have a right to anticipate, yet I’ve made real inroads.  My first task was to exorcise the yard of its ghosts and clear out the detritus of a foreclosed life: the swing set, the chicken coop, the network of fences crisscrossing and subdividing what should have been a seamless unity.  I lucked out in that some gardener of yore had given the garden shape and substance.  Nature’s benevolence had provided the rest.  The landscape has good bones.  The house lies at the low end of a gentle slope.  A “silver dollar” eucalyptus, native to North Africa, looms over the north side of the property, while a triad of young redwood groves centers it, shielding the house from the wide-open plain of the eastern pasture.  The whole place is fenced—but no fence is high enough to keep out trouble, which was not long in coming.

I had hardly been here a month when I saw my neighbor across the road open my gate and walk down the garden path.  He’s a nice older guy, retired and living with his wife in an immaculate place: His lawn is so near to perfection that no weed dares raise its head above the seamless green.  I about fell over when he told me his house had been robbed the previous morning.

It seems they were in church that Sunday, when—around nine—someone drove up the dirt road that divides his place from mine, parked, and jumped over the low fence that separates his property from the easement.  The thief broke down the door and made off with credit cards, jewelry, and a handful of checks.

Fear of crime had driven me from my old digs in Rio Nido—crime capital of the Russian River region—and out of Guerne­ville.  After years of scheming and dreaming about a way to get into a nice neighborhood like this, I was suddenly confronted with an awful reality: There is no getting away from it.  The poor white trash druggies and petty criminals had followed me here!

Ah, but our story doesn’t end there.  It seems the crook, being stupid as most are, had initially tried another house two doors down, first knocking to see if anyone was home.  Finding someone there, he targeted my next-door neighbor’s house, which was conveniently empty.  Fresh from his crime spree, our carefree thief went straight to a bank and tried to use the credit card.  Caught on video, he was identified by our neighbor two houses down as the same person who had knocked on his door the morning of the robbery.  Naturally, this Moriarty was well known to the police; already on probation, he was arrested and held without bail.

In all the time I spent in Guerneville, this kind of thing happened regularly, although never to me; yet I cannot think of a single instance in which the police actually caught and jailed the crook.  Nor did it seem as if the police were all that interested in solving the many crimes routinely committed in my old neighborhood.  Here, however, it was a different story, the moral of which is: If you rob someone’s house, make sure it isn’t in a good neighborhood.  In short, stick close to home.  Otherwise, justice will tend to be swift and terrible.